Over the last – now almost three – years, we have kept a rather low-key profile with the activities of City in the Making in Rotterdam. This started on a very pragmatic note, for the ambition to bring “toxic” (that is stalled, disused and economically problematic) buildings to life again has been an unprecedented challenge for the small team taking up this task. No success guaranteed.

However, while figuring our the basics in a learning-by-doing way, we started understanding that the challenge exploded far beyond activating stalled real-estate, and have put our minds to contemplating a contemporary model to provide for affordable living and working spaces in a largely “commons” based approach. Something we have set out to persistently explore and bring into practice in the years to come. No success guaranteed here either – a sobering observation that brought us to keep that low-key profile for the time being.

However, that period has ended, on the 24th of November, when City in the Making received the Job Dura Award in a packed auditorium at the Theatre School in Rotterdam. The award – given every two years to a Rotterdam based initiative putting the built environment to an exemplary socially relevant use – brings a fair amount of financial resources, but moreover, propels City in the Making in the limelight. And likely, at a good moment in its trajectory.

The “Stoking House” (Stokerij) at Pieter de Raadtstraat

Shifting the position of real-estate in our economy

It is not so difficult to understand why City in the Making has started from opening urban spaces – vacant buildings, to be specific – to the urban community under very affordable conditions. For one, these are the spaces where we as physical entities need to operate from for our daily lives, whether we live, work or interact with each other. But secondly, these very same buildings are of crucial importance to the current economy, which understands them as commodities, as investment vehicles in a rather speculative real-estate market. The last is that same set of expectations that brought the financial crisis of 2008, for instance, with in its wake the foreclosures, the large amount of empty buildings, and that pool of “toxic” real estate.

Over the three past years, City in the Making has been putting this “failure” to use, bringing a hand-full of buildings back to use (seven, as of date of writing) and has created a mix of living, working and commoned spaces in each of them, with the aim to set up self-reliant communities that are also economically more robust. Not just for their own sake, but equally for street, neighborhood and city. The buildings are for a limited time (3-10 years) at our disposal: a period we see as a training ground, brought to us as collateral “favor” of the crisis. Hardly a sustainable position, though.

A flight forward: real-estate as a common resource pool

Changing that reality, in order to create (or secure) our base in the city and strip the real-estate so essential to our daily lives from is speculative character, has therefore become one of the key aspect of how we look into the future.

One powerful way to do this is to take real-estate out of the market and bring it into a “common resource pool”. Not on the rather small scale we have been operating on in the years past, but to such a degree that it actually subverts the surrounding market mechanisms. Unimaginable? Well, there are examples of how this can be approached: from Community Land Trusts in the UK up to the rather persistently inspiring Mietshäuser Syndikat in Germany. However, all of this starts from an initial investment, in order to buy existing buildings or even build them from scratch. And for that, in today’s world, we need capital. Or partners to provide that capital in order to enforce a breakthrough. It might be clear that City in the Making in itself does not have such a resource available (otherwise we would not have been working with such devastated buildings to start from!) but we might be able to activate that capital. The recent Job Dura Award – or the spotlight is now has created – is of valuable help in this. That said, it is an effort that needs to be commoned, and we’re much welcoming any effort contributing to this.

  • [initiators ] STEALTH.unlimited (Ana Džokić and Marc Neelen), Erik Jutten, Piet Vollaard, with the community of City in the Making
  • [background ] City in the Making has been set up in 2013, in response to an inquiry by real-estate developer Havensteder (Rotterdam) to come up with an approach to some of its “toxic” buildings. This challenge was picked up by Erik Jutten, who – determined to find a breakthrough – started charting a “business model” based on a set of out-of-the-ordinary propositions, in a close collaboration with STEALTH and Piet Vollaard. Since, they are all at the core of this initiative.
  • [timeline ] May 2012 – ongoing (minimally 2024); opening first building February 2014